April 29, 2010
"Look it up on YouTube." That was Kate Nash at a gig in England last month, rejecting requests to play her biggest hit, "Foundations". Following in the virtual footsteps of similarly saucy Londoner Lily Allen, Nash first gained fans via another Web 2.0 site-- MySpace-- then graduated to the high-pressure world of UK #1 albums (2007 debut Made of Bricks), Brit awards (Best Female Artist 2008), and tabloid bullshit. Oh yeah, and she's only 22.
Nash hasn't cracked up yet, but her sophomore album is thrillingly schizophrenic. There's the brash riot grrrl who shrieks expletive-strewn girl-power polemic-- clearly, a new addition. But there's also the warts'n'all diarist whose keenly observed romantic vignettes made Nash an Internet sensation in the first place. And, of course, there's still plenty of piano-pop approachability to reassure the 600,000 fans who bought that glossily uneven first album; Bernard Butler's occasional touches of 1960s girl-group production nicely serve Nash's bursting mini-narratives about insecurities, sexual politics, and-- what else?-- L-U-V.
No one is going to mistake Nash for Karen O, let alone Ari Up. That's why I like her. Whether she's squawking on "I Just Love You More", hypnotically repeating a coming-out dilemma on "I've Got a Secret", or veering off into a foul-mouthed critique of groupie culture on "Mansion Song", Nash's leftfield moves resonate all the more here because she resembles someone you might actually know, a person with flaws-- not some impossibly cool rock goddess. On "Do You Want to Share the Guilt?", she declares, "Not being able to articulate what I want to say drives me crazy." This pivotal track's plainspoken anxiety, mallet percussion, and breathless coda are happily reminiscent of another wordy UK outfit recently undergoing a transition from politely employable to barely housebroken: Los Campesinos!. It's you, it's me, and we're emoting.
A couple of shows after Nash's defiant YouTube endorsement, "Foundations" started cropping up on setlists again. Sure enough, My Best Friend Is You hedges its edginess, too; first single "Do-Wah-Doo" cushions Nash's blunt charm with billowy arrangements. Only now, Nash is no longer struggling to establish romance-- she's deep in it. From breezily pessimistic opener "Paris" to sublimely mundane finale "I Hate Seagulls" (and on through a hidden title track), the album moves from infatuation and jealousy to lust and betrayal to real, young love. And it does so with not just the best of intentions-- feminism, anti-homophobia, artistic experimentation-- but also, in the storytelling style of the Streets or Sweden's Hello Saferide, a set of distinctive, well-crafted songs that should strike a chord with a whole lot of self-deprecating teens and twentysomethings. Anyone can add a friend these days. Finding-- and keeping-- a best friend remains as awkward and embarrassing as ever. And as exquisite.